ENT(601) – What is Important to You?

Welcome back readers,

As we near the end of the journey for the “Ego is the Enemy” series I am happy that I had a chance to share some of the ideas and wisdom the writer, Ryan Holiday wrote about in his bestseller. This post will focus on happiness and contentment, and as usual, how the ego can negatively impact one’s happiness and alter the notion of what’s really important to you.

Let’s begin with defining “contentment” as it related to the subject at hand. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, contentment is defined as “happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need” (“Contentment”, Cambridge Dictionary). Many famous and influential people throughout history have tried reaching contentment, but very few have succeeded. This could be due to the notion that we deserve better than what we have and we should always strive to get more “stuff” or fame so others can look up to us, and not the other way around 

We have already seen a great example of someone who managed to achieve contentment and a level of happiness, despite great achievements and praise for his dedication to the greater cause in one of the previous posts, namely the great General, William Sherman. For those not familiar with Sherman’s story, he, despite becoming one of the greatest generals and strategic thinkers this country has seen, and his influence on the outcome of the Civil War, Sherman declined the offer to run for office because he “had all the rank he wanted” (Holiday 2016). He was happy with what he had and wanted to retire in peace and contentment. 

On the other hand, a good friend of William Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant – a very prominent historical figure and a former president of the United States – did not see the reality through the same lense as Sherman. Luitenanct Grant earner high status and respect from an early age. He was assigned his first duty after graduation from West Point Military Academy. Since he was incredible in mathematics, he initially sought a position as an assistant professor of mathematics at West Point (Garland 1920). However, the Mexican War was rising to full force and lieutenant Grant was assigned to the 4th US Infantry, stationed near St. Louis, Missouri – he impressed the generals and played an important role in the outcome. Later, in 1854, Grant decided to resign from the army and return home to his family (wife and two sons). He turned to farming and real estate (Garland 1920). In April 1861 Grant made a return to the army to help recruit, organize, and drill the volunteering troops in MI. Within the next six months, Grant was promoted to a brigadier general, then later became a major general. In March 1864 Grant was appointed lieutenant general and was “entrusted with the command of all the U.S. Armies”. (Britannica).

General Grant succeeded in defeating General Lee and lead the Union to victory. With such achievement, General Grant was appointed an interim secretary of war and later nominated for the presidency by the Republican Party. Unlike Sherman, Grant chose to accept the nomination and pursue the presidency (Holiday, 2016). President Grant won by a margin, 214 votes to 80 votes of the Democratic candidate, Seymour (Simon 2019). Holiday describes Grant’s presidency as “one of the most corrupt, contentious, and least effective administrations in American history”. Even after his re-election, serving two terms, Grant’s administration performed very poorly (Holiday 2016). 

After the presidency, Grant invested all of his money to create a financial brokerage firm but his partner, Ferdinand Ward, turned out to be the greatest con man of his time, turned the brokerage into a Ponzi scheme, and directly contributed to Grant’s impoverishment and bankruptcy – many even held Ward directly responsible for Grant’s death as well (Ward 2013).

As Holiday eloquently stated, “Grant had accomplished so much, but to him, it was not enough. He could not decide what mattered to him” (Holiday 2016). Holiday continues: “We start out knowing what is important to us, but once we achieve it, we lose sight of our priorities. Ego sways us and can ruin us” (Holiday 2016).

This can be applied to any aspect of our lives, not just in business or entrepreneurial endeavors. It can be applied to school projects, personal appearance, the house we live in, the cars we drive and so on. Many people tend to waste their lives doing things to prove themselves to others and reach a certain level of respect for themselves, ignoring the fact that the ego is ruining their life without them even noticing it until it’s too late. 

As we continue our journey of entrepreneurship, we should focus on prioritizing what’s important to us and identify steps to getting there. We should not allow the ego to sway us and let us forget what’s important. As we saw from several examples illustrated in this book, the ego can be managed and suppressed but it takes courage and faith to stop yourself.

Holiday ends the chapter with the following advice: “Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that’s independence” (Holiday 2016).

References:

“CONTENTMENT: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” CONTENTMENT | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, 26 Feb. 2020, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/contentment.

Garland, Hamlin. “Ulysses S. Grant.” Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character, Google, 1920, books.google.com/books?id=AEIOAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=civil war&f=false.

Holiday, Ryan. Ego Is the Enemy. Portfolio, Penguin, 2016.

Simon, John Y. “Command over Union Armies.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 Nov. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Ulysses-S-Grant/Command-over-Union-armies.

Ward, Geoffrey C. “A Disposition to Be Rich.” A Disposition to Be Rich: Ferdinand Ward, the Greatest Swindler of the…, Google, Apr. 2013, books.google.com/books?id=ZCowwsL5xH8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

3 Comments

  1. Semir,
    I appreciate the post. I really try to heed the advice of understanding why I’m after what I’m after. When I look around, it seems like everyone is after what they think other people have. If people understood what those people had to go through, or have to deal with, or had to give up, in order to have what they have, it might not be so appealing.

  2. You’re absolutely correct. A long time ago, I saw the movie “Envy” and writing this post got me thinking about it and how it played out. It seems that the more people have the more they want, especially if someone else they know has it. Be it cars, houses, jobs, shoes, whatever materialistic object you can think of – there’s always an active competition going on. Thanks for stopping by and reading the posts.
    -Semir

  3. Our ego can sometimes push us too far, like in the instance of General Grant. He was not able to appreciate his accomplishments as his ego was always moving onto the next goal. While this could be considered a trait of a high performing individual, it can also lead to that individuals self-worth to suffer. If one can’t reflect meaningfully on previous successes and draw happiness from previous accomplishments, they will always view themselves as a “failure” or “under-performer.” This can cause burn-out, a term that has been the focus of much debate recently, but can truly become a mental health problem. The primary culprit is not society, not technology, not our social environment, not our organizational culture, but our ego. I’m not suggesting those other factors do not play a role or are incapable of causing burn-out, but I would argue that more often then not it is self-inflected by our own ego.

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